Dissecting the “New Paradigm” of Pope Francis

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Cardinal Wuerl and Cardinal Schonborn as they leave the opening session of the Synod of Bishops on the family at the Vatican Oct. 5, 2015 (CNS/Paul Haring)

 

Dr. Eduardo Echeverria, Professor of Philosophy and Systematic Theology at Sacred Heart Major Seminary, in his recent article entitled “History, unchanging Truth, and Vatican II” at the Catholic World Report, takes on a difficult task  in attempting to relate together the absolute truth of Christian revelation and its transmission through the medium of changeable and historically-conditioned human expressions (i.e. doctrinal formulations within a certain social and historical context). Dr. Ed puts his finger on the right target by situating the veracity of the 2nd Vatican Council, at least partly, on whether we can maintain the enduring validity of the doctrinal content of the Church’s past doctrinal formulations while at the same time acknowledging the changeability in their contextualized framing.

Citing Pope Benedict XVI, Dr. Ed poses the question aright : “Are the Council’s documents justifiably interpreted as being in discontinuity and rupture with the Church’s living Tradition?”. We know that the neo-Modernists and the neo-Traditionalists (as Dr. Ed coins their descriptions) both agree that there is rupture.

Dr. Ed approaches this question by looking into the historical context of the 2nd Vatican Council itself, and deducing that the Councils own “framework of interpretation”, or “its own approach to the question of truth and history”, is to be understood in the messages of the nouveaux théologiens – Yves Congar and Henri De Lubac. These two men, made Cardinals by St. john Paul II, were appropriated by that very Pope as well as his successor, Benedict XVI, as providing the authentic key to a hermeneutic of continuity, or “a creative retrieval of the authoritative sources, of reform and renewal in continuity with the Church’s living Tradition.”

Harkening back to the Councils’ own caller, Pope St. John XXIII, Dr. Ed cites from John’s “Gaudet Mater Ecclesia”, who is said to be inclined towards the solutions profferd by the nouveaux théologiens:

“What is needed is that this certain and unchangeable doctrine….presented in the way demanded by our times. For the deposit of faith…. [is] one thing, while the mode in which they are expressed, but with the same meaning and the same judgment [“eodem sensu eademque sententia”], is another thing.”

 

That clause in Latin “same meaning and same judgement” echos the formula of doctrinal development that was envisioned in the ancient author St. Vincent of Lerins, whose Commonitorium admitted that there is a development of progress of doctrine in Christ’s Church, as there is the same with a single human organism. There is growth, there is change, there is development, but all limbs, personhood, vital organs, etc,etc, are the same. And yet, so far as the doctrine of the Apostolic Deposit is concerned, its meaning and judgement are to remain unchanged.

Consequently, Dr. Ed deduces from this that “linguistic formulations or expressions of truth can vary in our attempt to deepen our understanding, as long as they maintain the same meaning and mediate the same judgment of truth.”

With this key of interpretation described, Dr. Ed goes on to articulate the problem with the Neo-Traditionalists and the Neo-Modernists. The former have absolutized continuity of dogma without any recognition of the variable-ness in the linguistic formulations that have attended to those dogmas throughout the historically-conditioned past, while the latter believes that by the variable-ness of linguistic formulations there is necessarily a changeability in the “dogmas” that said formulations attended.

Furthermore, a note is made on the contention of the Congar’s and the De Lubac’s of the early 20th century world, namely, that the Modernists, while being flat out wrong in the final conclusion they arrive at in the bottom of the spiral staircase into dogmatic eradication, had accurately identified an important question, after all. That question, again, pertains to the matter of the harmony between the Church’s inability to teach anything not continuous with the original Apostolic Deposit and the variable-ness of doctrinal formulations, which themselves can be subject to “correction, modification, and complementary restatement”.

In the neo-Modernists, there is both the recognition that the historically-conditioned and contextualized expressions of truth are never absolute and that, consequently, this variability “of expression implies inexpressibility of divine truth”, and so the neo-Modernists “reduces truth to its changing historical and linguistic expressions.” This new posture, or hermeneutic, is the weapon of those who employ the “Paradigm Shift” or “Pastorality of Doctrine”, such as Christoph Theobald, SJ, as well as even Cardinal Blase Cupich expressed in his lecture at the Von Hügel Institute in St. Edmund College, Cambridge. It was also voiced by a close associate of Pope Francis, the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Parolin.

Comparing this mentality to that which is working in this years Synod on the Youth, Dr. Ed describes it as expressing “merely an instrumentalist view of doctrine, in which doctrines are not absolute truths, or objectively true affirmations; in fact, doctrines don’t make assertions about objective reality at all.” As a result, there is a forfeit between faith and its ability to be expressed in statements.

In sum, Dr. Ed sees the neo-Modernists as out of sync with the phronema of the very best minds that went into the making of the 2nd Vatican Council, not least John XXIII. The solution, therefore, is to re-appropriate the hermentuetic of continuity as illumined by Congar, DeLubac, St. John Paul II, and yes, Pope Benedict XVI Emeritus, which, in turn, is simply a re-appropriation of the Lerinian gloss on doctrinal development (same meaning, same judgement), as a way to avoid doctrinal relativism and re-situate ourselves in the realm of doctrinal unchangeability.

If my above review of this article is correct, I have two things to say in response. First, I agree with his description of the intention of the nouveaux théologiens to maintain continuity with the past, especially by a resourrcement of the sources of revelation’s data in the Church Fathers, the Holy Scriptures, and the Sensus Fidelium, etc,etc. I will hold off on commenting on whether that intention was always successfully met in the respective theologies of the men of the Reform. Secondly, I want to say that the perspective of those employing the “New Paradigm”, which, let’s face it, is the hermeneutic of Pope Francis, has not been adequately represented. Here’s why. While I agree that the older Modernists were concluding doctrinal relativsm (per se), it is not the modus operandi of the Cupich’s, the Bergoglio’s, the Parolin’s, the James Martin’s, or the Marx’s of our present world. Rather, they have altered their strategy to avoid falling prey to such an easy intellectual slaughter. No, rather than affirming relativity to dogma, they forcefully assert it! Rather than saying the Church’s faith and teaching can change, they boldly pound the table insisting that they cannot change! So wherein is their strategy? It is right there in the 2nd Vatican Council. Did not the Council say that those who have no explicit knowledge of God (i.e. atheists) can be saved? It certainly did say so. Paragraph 16 of Lumen Gentium reads, “Nor does Divine Providence deny the helps necessary for salvation to those who, without blame on their part, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God and with His grace strive to live a good life”. The Traditionalists urge that this contradicts the former doctrine – “without faith, it is impossible to please God” (Heb 11:6), and thus concluding that atheists, who don’t believe in God, cannot be saved. The nouveaux théologiens would fix this apparent discontinuity by positing an “implicit faith” even in the interior life of the one who doesn’t believe in God via some motion in conscience, etc,etc. How you like that? I will cite from one Vatican II Bishop and Theologian, Dom Christopher Butler, who wrote the following in his “Church and Unity”:

I therefore hold, with the Second Vatican Council, that Augustine’s position should be ‘developed’ to take account of the distinction between objective and subjective moral evil. The development preserves everything that is essential to Augustine’s ecclesiology. And it makes that ecclesiology credible in an age like our own when we are acutely aware that people can be at odds about matters of supreme importance (e.g. the existence of God) and yet be perfectly in good faith” (Pg. 6)

Or how about the former doctrine that the one who rejects the command to be joined to the Catholic Church cannot be saved? The 2nd Vatican Council urged that even Protestants, Orthodox, and members of all other religions, while they may reject the command to be baptized and join the Catholic Church, can merely be inculpable and invincibly ignorant of good reason to do so. Voila! They may be anonymous Catholics already, without even knowing it (c.f. Rahner)! It is true that even prior to the 2nd Vatican Council, Popes such as Pius IX (1863) had already written about the “possibility” of someone outside the boundaries of the Church being saved. In his encyclical Quanto Conficiamur, he writes:

There are, of course, those who are struggling with invincible ignorance about our most holy religion. Sincerely observing the natural law and its precepts inscribed by God on all hearts and ready to obey God, they live honest lives and are able to attain eternal life by the efficacious virtue of divine light and grace.” (7)

Roots, therefore, of what Vatican 2 would emphasize on the the possibility of non-Catholics to be saved are already there nearly a century before the convening of the Council in the 1960’s. One could make a case that this opening up of exceptions has precedent in the history of the Church by expanding on the notion of “desire”, for which the Council of Trent said sufficed for Catechumens who died before reaching the physical font of Baptism, as well as those who die before able to receive absolution in the confessional. Why couldn’t this “desire” exception apply to those who may obtain it without knowledge of the explicit content of divine revelation in light of their absolute inability to be confronted with it? Hence, the development of the notion of an “implicit” desire which may serve to be the equivalent to the “explicit” desire had by Catechumens who die before officially becoming a member of the Church in Baptism, but who are nevertheless said to be able to achieve eternal redemption through their interior disposition. One could even argue that St. Paul himself, in his public address in the Areopagus of Athens to the Gentiles (Acts 17), implies the possibility of salvation by persons who were, at the very least, outside the realm of Old Testament divine revelation. St. Luke records Paul saying:

And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their pre-appointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us” (v26-27)

and

Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead” (v 30-31)

Here, Paul tells us that God was seeking mankind in every sector of the globe, so that man might “grope for Him and find Him”. Well, seeing as how Paul would have obviously known that the human race was largely outside the sphere of the revelation he gave to Abraham and the Israelites, one could argue that there is here an implication of some “way known to God” as to how pagans would have been able to find salvation through groping and finding God. Popes such as Pius IX merely codified this in terms of their search for God and following the dictates of conscience by the power of divine grace. Paul also seems to be even supporting the idea that “ignorance” , of the invincible form, would be mercifully excused, but that once divine revelation makes its way to the knowledge of the human person, they are obligated to believe and obey the summons of the Gospel. And this last part here is key. For when Paul faced people who disbelieved his message, and rejected it, Paul understood that this was an extremely dangerous position to be in. For example, when the summons to obey the Gospel were rejected by Paul’s own fellow Jewish kinsman in the synagogue, this was the conclusion that he reached:

“It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you [Israel] first; but since you reject it, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles.” (Acts 13:46)

In other words, Paul did not consider the vast array of possibilities that exists between the objective and the subjective, such that he claimed a certain agnosticism about the fate of those who disbelieved the Gospel. However, this is what we see today by many Catholic Christians who are spiritual children of the 2nd Vatican Council. For Paul, this is how the process worked :

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Cor 1:18)

and

when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels,  in flaming fire, [he will be] taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.  These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, when He comes, in that Day, to be glorified in His saints” (2 Thessalonians 2:7-9)

With such strong words, it would be difficult to image Paul speaking with an agnostic spirit about those who do not believe in the Lord Jesus, as if there are good chances for them to be saved. In fact, the implications he gives are for the opposite. Thus, while there is some precedent in Scripture and in the Papal decrees prior to the Vatican Council, one has to wonder if there is enough precedent to develop the “possibility” of salvation outside the Catholic Church, as Dr. Ralph Martin says, and morph this into a “probability” with which we can almost presume as a given.

Returning to the Vatican Council, how about the fact that since Orientale Ecclesiarium, all families of the Eastern Churches separated from Rome are freely allowed to receive communion in Catholic parishes? The current code of Canon Law (844) says they only need to be properly disposed (having confessed their sins), which is the same requirement for all fully Catholic members. Now, grant it, we are told there is a massive history of inter-communion prior to the Councils between the Catholics and the Eastern churches, but mostly it was due to severe circumstances. Today, we have something far different and explicit than that. With all that said, I am not here knocking hard on the East. In fact, by my pointing this out, I vindicate the East which had kept to the primitive traditions when it comes to who is worthy to receive communion in their communities.

How much more development of pushing the distance between the objective versus the subjective was needed before someone came along and posited that while two persons who live in sexual immorality outside of marriage refuse to cease from contravening the will of God, they are merely interiorly inculpable through mitigating circumstances , and can be deemed worthy of holy communion? How much more development is needed before we have another saying that while persons in same-sex relationships refuse to cease from it, they may have, otherwise, gifts of grace to offer the Church , and even be prepared to receive communion in light of mitigating circumstances to conscience and personal culpability? My friends, none who have been urging the Church to reform in her pastoral discipline have required the need to change dogma. They keep re-affirming dogma, but dwell in the realm of the subjective, where things are elastic enough such that, with enough “discernment”, it can “no longer simply be said that all those in any ‘irregular’ situation are living in a state of mortal sin” (Amoris Laetitia, 301). Further, “A subject may know full well the rule, yet have great difficulty in understanding ‘its inherent values‘, or be in a concrete situation which does not allow him or her to act differently and decide otherwise without further sin” (301). Did you read that? There is no need to deny dogmatic tradition, or its meaning. Rather, peer into the subjective realm of personality, and there is wide enough space to fit almost anything. Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio, head of the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legal Texts, said the following in a 2014 interview when asked about homosexual couples:

If I meet a homosexual couple, I notice immediately that their relationship is illicit: the doctrine says this, which I reaffirm with absolute certainty. However, if I stop at the doctrine, I don’t look anymore at the persons. But if I see that the two persons truly love each other, do acts of charity to those in need, for example … then I can also say that, although the relationship remains illicit, positive elements also emerge in the two persons. Instead of closing our eyes to such positive realities, I emphasize them. It is to be objective and objectively recognize the positive of a certain relationship, of itself illicit

Did you catch that? Even within a situation such as a couple living in this sort of homosexual activity, with which Paul condemned in the strongest of language as deserving of death (Rom 1:26-32), we have here a staunch defender of Amoris Laetitia, such as Coccopalmerio, speculating on the “positive elements” of grace in said form of relationship, all the while making sure to his listeners that doctrine on marriage has not changed!

This “paradigm shift” can be seen also in Cardinal Cupich’s lecture at he Von Hügel institute, already mentioned above, when in that very lecture he says:

In other words, doctrinal development is about remaining open to the invitation to see our moral teachings on marriage and family life through the lens of God’s omnipotent mercy.”

and

He [Pope Francis] also admits the possibility of God’s grace working in those involved in second marriages. ‘…it can on longer simply be said that all those in any irregular situation are living in a state of mortal sin and are deprived of sanctifying grace’ (AL 301). In all these ways, Pope Francis reminds us that the family is such a privileged place for God’s self-revelation that nothing can stand in the way of God’s grace. The presupposition must always be that whenever there is a family striving to live together and to love one another, the Spirit is already present. The task of those who minister to families, then, is to open their eyes to see, and to help families discern where God is calling them. All of this represents an enormous change of approach, a paradigm shift holistically rooted in Scripture, tradition and human experience”.

and

The mutual respect in discerning the movement of the Spirit in the process of accompaniment opens up a third shift, that provides  a more complete way of understanding the role of conscience. Rather than limiting the function of conscience to knowing moral truth about actions in the past and objective truth in the present, conscience also discerns the future, asking: What is God asking of me now? This is how Pope Francis explains it: ‘Yet conscience can do more than recognize that a given situation does not correspond objectively to the overall demands of the Gospel. It can also recognize with sincerity and honesty what for now is the most generous response which can be given to God, and come to see with a certain moral security that it is what God himself is asking amid the concrete complexity of one’s limits, while yet not fully the objective ideal . In any event, let us recall this discernment in dynamic; it must remain ever open to new stages of growth and to new decisions which can enable the ideal to be more fully realized’ (AL 303)”.

Continuing on this idea of the complexity of conscience, Cupich continues:

Their decisions of conscience represent God’s personal guidance of the particularities of their lives. In other words, the voice of conscience – the voice of God – of if I may be permitted to quote an Oxford man here at Cambridge, what Newman called ‘aboriginal vicar of Christ’ – could very well affirm the necessity of living at some distance from the Church’s understanding of the ideal, while nevertheless calling a person to ‘new stages of growth and to new decisions which can enable the ideal to be more fully realized‘”.

Did you catch that? Cupich, taking from Pope Francis, is here urging that a particular person, or couple in an “irregular union“, can both be aware that their life does not correspond to the overall demands of the Gospel but nevertheless still be fulfilling all that God is asking of them at that moment, and thus living in the state of grace onward towards salvation. See my article in response to Cupich his interpretation of “conscience” in Newman (here).

There should not, therefore, be any surprise that Cupich is on the record admitting the possibility of homosexual couples who are active in their homosexuality to receive holy communion. When speaking in  an interview to reporters at the Vatican, Ed Pentin records Cupich making the following statements when asked about giving sacraments to homosexual couples:

“Conscience is inviolable…and we have to respect that when making decisions, and I’ve always done that..Gay people are human beings, too; they have a conscience, and my role as a pastor is to help them to discern what the will of God is by looking at the objective moral teaching of the Church…at the same time..through a period of discernment, to understand what God is calling them to at that point, so it’s for everybody.”

Do you see the same strand of thought come up? He will “help them to discern what the will of God…at that point” in their lives. Furthermore, in an interview with WTTW’s Chicago Tonight, host Phil Ponce asked Cupich whether it is his policy as the Archbishop of Chicago to deny communion or ecclesiastical funeral rites to homosexual couples. Cupich responds saying:

Well, we have been asked about that already and we responded that that is not our policy and we, as a matter of practice, don’t comment on the policies of other dioceses

Another example of this paradigm shift is seen in a 2015 press conference where Cardinal Christoph Schönborn told reporters that there could be no clear “yes or no” to the question of communion for divorced and re-married couples. Again, echoing the same ling of thought as Pope Francis and Cardinal Cupich above.  “There is no black and white, a simple Yes or No”, since complex situations of particular peoples vary. Very well. Moreover, in an interview with  Civiltà Cattolica in 2015, as reported by Voice of the Family, Schönborn is found making more explosive statements….He says one homosexual friend was no longer promiscuous now that he was involved in a stable and monogamous relationship.

“In an interview with La Civiltà Cattolica, Cardinal Schönborn, archbishop of Vienna, advocated the recognition and promotion of ‘stable homosexual relationships’ because that would be better for the persons involved than the alternative, the well-known promiscuous gay lifestyle. Besides, in these ‘monogamous’ arrangements, there is ‘sharing of life, joys, and sufferings, … one helps one another,’ in short, the persons concerned ‘would make an important step for [their] own good and for the good of others’.”

Did you catch that? A stable, rather than promiscuous, homosexual relationship is a step in the right direction for the good of the partners and of others. Apparently, it is not merely a more extreme habit of mortal sin versus a less extreme. No, rather, the transition is from bad to good, or perhaps less good to more good. Who knows?

Another point of interest is the resignation of Fr. Gerhard Swierzek, pastor of a parish in Vienna, who resigned after Schönborn overruled his decision to exclude an active homosexual from the parish council. Schönborn permitted this man who was openly in a homosexual relationship to retain his position on the parish council. On this event, an Italian politician and philosopher, Rocco Buttiglione, a staunch defender of Amoris Laetitia and a member of the Pontifcial Academy for Social Sciences, has stated:

I defend the cardinal’s decision and I say that it seems to me that it is an intelligent pastoral reading of the Church’s position toward homosexuals and homosexuality…If the cardinal would say that homosexuality is not a serious moral disorder, he would be mistaken. But he doesn’t say that…According to the Catholic doctrine, homosexuality is a serious moral disorder … I don’t think Cardinal Schönborn denies this truth…He just says that the homosexual is a faithful sinner, one who struggles for the faith and who needs support, with friendly and discrete dialogue, in this fight. He can’t be admitted to the sacraments, but he needs to be invited to participate in the religious functions and in the parish life

At the very least, Buttiglione admits that no access to the sacraments are to be granted to said actively gay person, but he still speaks of a “faithfulness” in said person, and that they need help and support, etc,etc. All good and well; but on a parish council? Not only is this still a position of influence in the leadership of the parish, but the openly immoral person is allowed to be in good-standing in the midst of the congregation! Not only should this person be removed from the council, but they should be excommunicated from the Church until they repent and conform their lives to the law of Christ. Is such a pastoral plan so far afield the wisdom of the Holy Spirit? I sure hope not, since He inspired the Apostle Paul to command the leadership of the Corinthian church to publicly excommunicate and deliver over to Satan an openly fornicating man who was thought to be welcome in their gatherings (1 Cor 5:1-13). Surely, either Paul was inspired by the Holy Spirit, or Schönborn was. It cannot be both. I hope the answer is clear.

Concluding Reflection

All throughout this process, there is no need to say that doctrinal content needs to change, but rather this “paradigm shift” exists on the plane of pastoral discipline. Now, that does not mean that doctrine is not affected! As Bishop Fulton Sheen said, “If you don’t behave as you believe, you will end by believing as you behave”. In other words, the bifurcation between pastoral practice and doctrinal content is damaged by the “paradigm shift” since it can lead, as St. Jude so aptly put, ministers of the gospel turning “the grace of our God into lewdness [a license to sin] and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ.” (v4). Is that not the ultimate consequence? Here we have Cardinals, taking from the Pope of the Catholic Church, admitting that people can be so variant from the basic demands of repentance in the Gospel (i.e. sexual purity), and yet still be walking in the grace of God. Of course they would deny this and assert that they still believe the “ideal” is a fully repentant life, but that, due to complex circumstances and individual inculpability, a believer in Christ can be omitted from having to conform his life to the Law of God as an indispensable requirement for their salvation. That, my friends, is where the evil of this paradigm shift lay. Our conservative theologians have not been able to refute it on the terms of dogmatic formulation, since the defenders of the new paradigm don’t hold that doctrine can change. The best I can come up with a word on this is that this paradigm shift is in danger of being a camouflage heresy (i.e. practically leading the lambs of Christ into a lukewarm compromise with living out some of the commands of Christ, while not needing to abide by others). Would any of the Apostles had conceded to this? Any of the Church Fathers? Any Christian up until the past 100 years? I think not. I know not.

As I said, there is much elasticity as to what one could permit when we are dangerously playing with souls by envisioning the possibility of such a high variance between the objective contravention of God’s will in someone’s life versus their subjective conscience and mitigating circumstances to culpability. I have even taken the logic so far as to say that this wide divergence between what is objectively true versus what is subjectively complemented, despite the objective irregularity, can lead someone to positing a new discipline of opening the chalice to all people of the world (see my A Proposal For Universalism Based Upon Amoris Laetitia’s Underlying Logic: A Paradigm Shift?). No denial of dogma or its meaning required. To no surprise, even Bishop Robert Barron has explained in a YouTube video how the principles herein are not doctrinally aberrant in principle (to be fair, Barron doesn’t say in this video that people in objective irregular unions should receive communion, even if he spells out how the basic framework that Amoris is working with). In fact, as Pope Francis himself has made clear on more than one occasion, the engine for this sort of Pastoral “Reform” is to be seen in a more faithful application of the spirit of the 2nd Vatican Council. We need to get out heads in the game here, and find out a way to dispel this madness which has been allowed to masquerade in the Catholic Church, otherwise we are looking at a demise in our ability to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Another article will be devoted to looking into just what me a solution for our times. No doubt, the solution is wrapped up in the recent saying of Cardinal Robert Sarah, “Don’t deceive people with the word ‘mercy’. God forgives sins only if we repent of them“. And that is ultimately what this all boils down to. Are we going to stick with the same old Gospel of repentance and conversion, or are we going to negotiate with the enemy on a compromised repentance, or a a negotiated allegiance to the Lord Jesus Christ?

Lastly, to say something about Dr. Eduardo Echeverria’s article.  As much as I think he accurately describes the older Modernist vs Traditionalist debate, I don’t think Dr. Ed has fully described the mentality of those promoting this “New Paradigm”. Rather, it is a far more complicated process, but no less destructive. However, I have consulted with him since and he has told me that he plans to go into more detail in a future work.

Featured Image from NCRonline

11 thoughts on “Dissecting the “New Paradigm” of Pope Francis

  1. It is conceivable that at least some self-styled atheists
    or agnostics in fact adhere to some divinely revealed truths, but
    under different names than God. They may believe in the One, or the
    Good, or the Absolute, in such a way that it is substantially a faith
    in divine benevolence or wisdom, though they may yet be ignorant of
    whether this Being interacts with or communicates with men in the
    manners described by monotheistic religions. The question then becomes
    whether they are culpable for their failure to recognize the existence
    of God in more overtly theistic terms. They are certainly without
    excuse, as St. Paul attests, if they utterly deny divine benevolence
    and wisdom, but some might affirm these and yet hesitate to ascribe
    personhood to God, owing to some philosophical or scientific
    confusion. Those who introduce such confusion are certainly culpable,
    but their students might not always be so.

    • Yep,

      Thank you for your reply.

      However, if I may challenge you with this – What causes such a speculation of possibilities? Obviously, the world of “possibility” is so elastic as to include pretty much whatever we want, right? For example, is it *possible* that a same-sex “married” couple (active), who adopted 5 children (all now at ages between 8-16), who are active proponents of the LGBT cause, and who urge the Church to change her doctrine are actually so mitigated in their culpability, due to ignorance (insert whatever), that they are actually walking in grace (at most, being in venial sin) and worthily receive the precious Body and Blood of Christ?

      If you say its not “possible”, the Kantian-technicians are going to then ask you, “Who died and made you the infallible tank of all knowledge which perfectly accords with reality”? , to which you will deny that you have such powers.

      It is very similar with the speculation on atheists. I am tempted to say it is not possible since the Scripture says, “Without faith, it is impossible to please God” (Heb 11), and “a fool says in his heart, ‘there is no God'” (in Proverbs, the “fool” is the one walking the way of death). But then, another might turn around and posit that while there may be the absence of an “explicit” faith in God, there might be an “implicit” faith in God whose form and sense is only known by God. Heck, the atheist himself may be of the persuasion that not only is there no God, but that his interior disposition is so opposed to the concept that he posits a completely material universe of which his opinions are merely a spatial dot ready to be obliterated in the conclusion of a decomposed body….but the professional speculator (again, from whence derives this from the intellect?) will continue to dig for *possible* ways that an *implicit* faith is still extent in even such an atheist, in a way known to God alone.

      In fact, one could continue developing his skill in speculative exercise for the most ardent criminals: rapists, child molesters, murderers, the Nazi ideology, etc,etc.

      And yet, does the Bible give us precedent for this sort of thing? I argue that by both *precept* and *example*, such speculative-method is out-ruled from the external forum of Christian ministry. For example, in 1 Cor 5, Paul only needs to hear by word of mouth from Chloe’s household that there is an immoral man living in the midst of the Corinthian congregation. His reaction is to rebuke the elders of the Corinthian church for having tolerated such a person, and strongly commanded them to “deliver such a one over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh” (i.e. public excommunication and shunning from fellowship). Or how about the Pharisees? St. John the Baptist unashamedly calls them “brood of vipers”, unworthy of forgiveness and repentance. Christ himself calls them hypocrites, white-washed tombs, and men destined for everlasting hell. In fact, he tells his disciples to “beware the leaven of the Pharisees” (leaven = sowed evil). Or how about Ananias and Saphira in the opening of the Acts of the Apostles? St. Luke records that they lied to the Holy Spirit by withholding funds to the Church, and they were struck dead. St. Luke makes an extraordinary report when he says that this event : “And great fear came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these things” (5:11). In other words, the Holy Spirit who struck Ananias and Saphira dead intended for this to instill fear into the disciples living in Jerusalem. That is not quite the modus operandi of the mega-churches today, I can tell you that. Or how about when the Jews rejected Paul’s message? Paul did not leave thinking, “well, we don’t know the inside of a person’s heart, so these people might be saved via ignorance/inculpability/etc,etc”. No, he responded to the Jews by saying, “you judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles!” (Acts 13:46). Unworthy of eternal life sounds like a reigning indictment. By today’s standards overly presumptuous.

      The fact of the matter is this – Divine Revelation often presumes the impending doom of those who are not united with God through an outward profession of faith and commitment to the gospel of our Lord. Sure, Paul can say that God overlooks former ignorance (Acts 17:30), and even say that God was accepting some form of union based upon the light of natural revelation (ibid 17:27) for those who searched for God in ways available to them, but never does he venture to say that a person who doesn’t even believe in God can have even an implication of fides in his or her heart. The culpability-meter tends to fall on the side of a presumed doom for the unbeliever. For example, “the word of the cross is foolishness to them that are perishing, but to us who are called, it is the power of God” (1 Cor 1:18). Here, Paul divides humanity into two, (1) the called, and (2) the perishing. Likewise, in Ephesians 2, Paul describes the former life of the gentiles as one “without hope” and “without God”.

      The New Testament closes with the Apocolypse, and it is here that exists a vivid irony in light of contemporary notions of Jesus and his mercy. For in the letters to the 7 churches (Rev 2-3), we have recorded the most recent words of Christ in Holy Writ, for it is the farthest post-Ascension record of the words of Christ. And yet, while contemporary theologians speculate on reforming the Church according to the “mercy of Jesus”, the Lord Himself has very scathing warnings to the churches whose congregations have harbored remnants of sin and disobedience to the commandments of God. I list some examples:

      “Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.” (2:16)

      “Notwithstanding I have a few things against thee, because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols..And I gave her space to repent of her fornication; and she repented not. Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds. And I will kill her children with death; and all the churches shall know that I am he which searcheth the reins and hearts: and I will give unto every one of you according to your works” (2:20-23)

      “I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.” (3:15-16)

      In sum, I think it tends towards pointlessness to take the time to not only conceive of the possibility of atheists being saved, let alone actually voicing this out in the open and external economy of evangelists (see Pope Francis to the young boy who asked where his death father was, heaven or hell?).

  2. I would consider so-called “implicit faith” to presuppose some actual faith in a divinely revealed doctrine, combined with a firm disposition to adhere to whatever else God should reveal. Only the divine gift of supernatural faith can guarantee that this conviction is unconditional and grounded in divine authority.

    Obviously, a “pure” atheist who has no faith whatsoever cannot have
    implicit faith. Neither can an agnostic who considers all ultimate
    questions to have at best doubtful or probable answers. Nor can
    someone who believes there is a God, but only as a matter of strong
    opinion, or a conviction not grounded in divine authority. All such
    people have at best human faith, if they have any faith at all.

    Nonetheless, it is conceivable that at least some self-styled atheists
    or agnostics in fact adhere to some divinely revealed truths, but
    under different names than God. They may believe in the One, or the
    Good, or the Absolute, in such a way that it is substantially a faith
    in divine benevolence or wisdom, though they may yet be ignorant of
    whether this Being interacts with or communicates with men in the
    manners described by monotheistic religions. The question then becomes
    whether they are culpable for their failure to recognize the existence
    of God in more overtly theistic terms. They are certainly without
    excuse, as St. Paul attests, if they utterly deny divine benevolence
    and wisdom, but some might affirm these and yet hesitate to ascribe
    personhood to God, owing to some philosophical or scientific
    confusion. Those who introduce such confusion are certainly culpable,
    but their students might not always be so.

    Again, it is not sufficient that a supposed atheist/agnostic should
    believe in divine benevolence and wisdom under some form, but this
    must be accepted as an insight revealed by God (under whatever name He
    is recognized) and accompanied by a firm resolve to adhere to whatever
    else should be so revealed. Only a supernatural divine faith suffices,
    not a mere human conviction, no matter how strong.

    Granted, some of this is speculative on my part, though it’s grounded
    in sound principles and aligns with apparent indications by the modern
    Magisterium that even atheists might sometimes be among the invincibly
    ignorant.

    • Yep,

      Thanks again for your willingness to interact on this subject. Let me respond to this:

      “Granted, some of this is speculative on my part, though it’s grounded
      in sound principles and aligns with apparent indications by the modern
      Magisterium that even atheists might sometimes be among the invincibly
      ignorant.”

      I completely agree that it is speculative. Not all speculation is bad, however. In some cases, it is necessary…even with a life-saving result. Aside from that, when you say that your particular speculating is “grounded in sound principles”, this is where I would disagree. First, being “invincibly ignorant” is, as you already know, not sufficient for someone to enter into the Kingdom of God. Secondly, the Church has *never* given even a hint at the idea that an atheist or an agnostic can be saved. This is crucial. You mention the “indications” of the Magisterium. Well, what indications has Scripture or Tradition given ? All indications are to the opposite, namely, that one who dies without faith in Christ and membership in the Church will be damned forever. Thus, even if it were a possibility to speculate on (i.e. we can speculate on whether all of life as we know it is an illusion to some prior distortion of reality that we all forgot), there is no precedent for it, and there is certainly no good reason to do so. What I continue to hear from proponents of this view is an emphasis on “possible” , “may”, “in someway known to God”, “who are we to judge?”, “we cannot know for sure”, and “Vatican 2 states it”. These all might be true. We are certainly not individually infallible (unless your the Pope); we are certainly not omniscient and know the hearts and destinies of all men; and we can certainly maneuver the conditions of a particular atheist such that he is invincibly ignorant and nevertheless has that quality of soul-disposition to adhere to divine revelation and its mandate, without violating a clear law of logic or epistemology. I am not here saying this is somehow internally incoherent or violated by a certain observable standard in epistemology. Rather, what I am insisting is that the starting-point for such speculation has no precedent from Christ, the Church, or any content in divine revelation. In every field of theologizing, we are gonna want to ground it in holy Scripture, and holy Tradition. It is not as if the Rahners and the Balthasars of the world were the first technicians on “being” or “esse” so as to have the light-bulb go off on the possibility of anonymous-Christians. Rather, any time this thought had come up before it was shot down with what was more abundantly known by divine revelation, and for the sake of simple common sense. What use is there to tell the atheistic world , and the pagan world, that they may already be fully immersed already in sanctifying grace in a way unknown to them or anyone else? Is that how Paul engaged his audiences? I think not.

      Lastly, we should not impute sound-ness to our principles just simply because there is not technical contradiction in their usage. Otherwise, if you see my post on Universalism based off the logic of Amoris Laetitia, no one could refute the discipline which allows for the whole world to receive the body and blood of Christ, since it is *possible* that all are invincibly ignorant, are venial sinners, have the corresponding disposition which co-operates with grace, and are anonymous-Catholics. How would one go about refuting a Pope who got up and made such a decree? You see, just by speculating the possibilities does not keep you away from some sort of camouflage heresy (i.e. not a heresy by assertion or denial, but by the effect of a lack of common sense). An atheist in the world is someone who is in desperate need for the gospel, in order to deliver his soul from damnation and death. That is how Christ our Lord presumed the masses to be (Acts 26:17-18(

  3. “Secondly, the Church has *never* given even a hint at the idea that an atheist or an agnostic can be saved. This is crucial. You mention the “indications” of the Magisterium. Well, what indications has Scripture or Tradition given ? All indications are to the opposite, namely, that one who dies without faith in Christ and membership in the Church will be damned forever. ”

    Here we need to distinguish between explicit and implicit faith (which even St. Thomas distinguished when speaking of the gentiles who lived before the time of Christ). Of course, St. Thomas also believed that after the revelation of Jesus Christ one needs *explicit* faith to be saved. However, the church has taught under its universal (infallible) magisterium that implicit desire for baptism is sufficient unto salvation. The First Vatican Council declared,

    “Furthermore, it is a dogma of faith that no one can be saved outside the Church. Nevertheless, those who are invincibly ignorant of Christ and His Church are not to be judged worthy of eternal punishment because of this ignorance. For they are innocent in the eyes of the Lord of any fault in this matter. God wishes all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth; and if one does what he can, God does not withhold the grace for him to obtain justification and eternal life” (Vatican 1, chapter 7).

    Likewise, Pope Pius IX (who presided over the First Vatican Council) declared in his encyclical Quanto Conficiamur Moerore,

    “Here, too, our beloved sons and venerable brothers, it is again necessary to mention and censure a very grave error entrapping some Catholics who believe that it is possible to arrive at eternal salvation although living in error and alienated from the true faith and Catholic unity. Such belief is certainly opposed to Catholic teaching. There are, of course, those who are struggling with invincible ignorance about our most holy religion. Sincerely observing the natural law and its precepts inscribed by God on all hearts and ready to obey God, they live honest lives and are able to attain eternal life by the efficacious virtue of divine light and grace”(Quanto Conficiamur Moerore, 7).

    In the ninth article of his catechism (question 29), Pope Pius X wrote,

    “If he is outside the Church through no fault of his, that is, if he is in good faith, and if he has received Baptism, or at least has the implicit desire of Baptism; and if, moreover, he sincerely seeks the truth and does God’s will as best he can such a man is indeed separated from the body of the Church, but is united to the soul of the Church and consequently is on the way of salvation.”

    Furthermore, Pope Pius XII in his enycilcial Mystici Corporis Christi wrote that non-Catholics can be associated with the Catholic Church through an unconscious desire, “For even though by an unconscious desire and longing they have a certain relationship with the Mystical Body of the Redeemer, they still remain deprived of those many heavenly gifts and helps which can only be enjoyed in the Catholic Church” (Mystici Corporis 103).

    Later in 1949, with the full approval of Pope Pius XII, the Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office responded to the Feeneyite heresy by declaring,

    “Therefore, that one may obtain eternal salvation, it is not always required that he be incorporated into the Church actually as a member, but it is necessary that at least he be united to her by desire and longing. However, this desire need not always be explicit, as it is in catechumens; but when a person is involved in invincible ignorance God accepts also an implicit desire, so called because it is included in that good disposition of soul whereby a person wishes his will to be conformed to the will of God. These things are clearly taught in that dogmatic letter which was issued by the Sovereign Pontiff, Pope Pius XII, on June 29, 1943, (AAS, Vol. 35, an. 1943, p. 193 ff.). For in this letter the Sovereign Pontiff clearly distinguishes between those who are actually incorporated into the Church as members, and those who are united to the Church only by desire.”

    For more information you can read Monsignor Joseph Clifford Fenton’s book, “The Catholic Church and Salvation In the Light of Recent Pronouncements of the Holy See.”

    • Yep,

      Thank you again for laboring through this. One should get credit for just the time and effort.

      In points:

      (1) I understand St. Thomas’s distinction between explicit and implicit faith. That, however, doesn’t engage with my stated positions. At least, as a counter-point. So we agree on this.

      (2) Although I agree with the theology behind your supposed citation from the 1st Vatican Council, this was actually not officially promulgated by the Council fathers. The first draft on the constitution of the Church (see Collectio Lacensis, VII, 567). This text received no votes in the solemn assembly due to the Council’s being abruptly stopped due to the Franco-Prussian war interruption. Thus, it was not put out by the “universal (infallible) magisterium”. That said, none of this speaks to the matter of Atheists being saved. In fact, in Chapter 3.9 of the 1st Vatican Council, the Fathers decreed:

      “Since, then, without faith it is impossible to please God and reach the fellowship of his sons and daughters, it follows that no one can ever achieve justification without it, neither can anyone attain eternal life unless he or she perseveres in it to the end.”

      (3) I am well aware of what Pope Pius IX said in Quanto Conficiamur Moerore, but this still doesn’t interact with any of my stated positions, and even less deals with the situation of people who profess there is no God.

      (4) What Pope St. Pius X wrote in his Catechism is likewise conformable to the above, but again, does not interact with what we are speaking about here concerning those who profess there is no God.

      (5) What Pope Pius XII stated in Mystici Corporus is also equivalent to #’s 3 and 4 above.

      (6) The Letter of the Holy Office in 1949 is same as #’s 3, 4, and 5.

      Lastly, the onus is on you to take what I’m actually arguing, and either affirm it, or challenge it on its stated terms.

      God bless!

    • Well, I was aware of his being currently a Roman Catholic. However, I did not know he converted in his adult life. That is interesting. I wonder if there is a testimony on this. I’ve relied on him for Cyprian-studies.

  4. I haven’t read all of the comments, but I have a way of squeezing this statement back into orthodoxy through the back door:

    “or does Divine Providence deny the helps necessary for salvation to those who, without blame on their part, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God and with His grace strive to live a good life”

    1.) It is unclear how many people fall into the category of atheism “without blame on their part.”

    2.) The “helps necessary for salvation” are the helps necessary to achieve Faith and Baptism. God does not deny these people the helps that they need to get out of their current state. So, if they fail to leave that state before their particular judgment, they are to blame.

    Blessed Pope Pius IX’s statement also seems open-ended:

    “There are, of course, those who are struggling with invincible ignorance about our most holy religion. Sincerely observing the natural law and its precepts inscribed by God on all hearts and ready to obey God, they live honest lives and are able to attain eternal life by the efficacious virtue of divine light and grace.”

    Since God can do what God can do, why would we exclude Faith and Baptism from “the efficacious virtue of divine light and grace” that God gives these people? I think St. Thomas Aquinas, when talking about the “desert island native” in the situation that Pope Pius describes, has God send him an angel or a missionary to help him fulfill the life of virtue he’s started on.

    To sum up, I think a lot of the magisterial statements used to contradict “extra ecclesiam nulla salus” rest on non sequiturs or unasked questions, like what Pope Pius thinks “the efficacious virtue of divine light and grace” would mean in this scenario. I think the rock-bottom dogmatic principle is, “God does not demand the impossible from us. He provides us the opportunity to effect what He requires.” Then the question becomes, do you think God, in His Providence, is capable of disposing of the world in such a way that all of the predestined can, by the time of their particular judgment, attain salvation by the means known to us (explicit Faith, Baptism, etc.). It seems to me that a Yes answer is an act of Faith. It seems to me that a No answer runs contrary to Faith, depending instead on what we can see with our human eyes, which don’t see how close God is to each of us, as St. Paul told the Athenians.

  5. Pingback: Pope Francis: God Wills False Religions? | Erick Ybarra – Credo Ut Intelligam

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